Condition Spotlight

Untreated Lyme disease can produce a wide range of symptoms, depending on the stage of infection. These include fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis.

The Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, is spread through the bite of infected ticks. The blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) spreads the disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States. The western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) spreads the disease on the Pacific Coast.

 

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Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease caused by the Borrelia bacterium which is spread by ticks. The most common sign of infection is an expanding red rash, known as erythema migrans, that appears at the site of the tick bite about a week after it occurred.

Early Signs and Symptoms (3 to 30 Days After Tick Bite)

  • Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes may occur in the absence of rash
  • Erythema migrans (EM) rash:
    • Occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected persons
    • Begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3 to 30 days (average is about 7 days)
    • Expands gradually over several days reaching up to 12 inches or more (30 cm) across
    • May feel warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful
    • Sometimes clears as it enlarges, resulting in a target or “bull’s-eye” appearance
    • May appear on any area of the body
    • Does not always appear as a “classic” erythema migrans rash

Later Signs and Symptoms (days to months after tick bite)

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Additional EM rashes on other areas of the body
  • Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
  • Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat
  • Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet

Some patients experience PTLDS. Some experts believe that Borrelia burgdorferi can trigger an “auto-immune” response causing symptoms that last well after the infection itself is gone. Auto–immune responses are known to occur following other infections, including campylobacter (Guillain-Barré syndrome), chlamydia (Reiter’s syndrome), and strep throat (rheumatic heart disease). Other experts hypothesize that PTLDS results from a persistent but difficult to detect infection. Finally, some believe that the symptoms of PTLDS are due to other causes unrelated to the patient’s Borrelia burgdorferi infection.